By Noel Vera
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Directed by Rian Johnson
(WARNING: plot twists and overall narrative discussed in explicit detail.)
YOU THOUGHT The Force Awakens was clumsily stitched together from the cold leftovers of the first Star Wars movie*? Get a load of this carcass —
In the hokily written opening crawl (But aren’t they all?) we learn that the Republic has collapsed and its loyalists have formed not a Rebellion but a Resistance; we learn that Supreme Leader (as opposed to Emperor) Snoke is in charge of not the Empire but The First Order. Basically business as usual only under different names.**
We have Empire ships laying siege to a hidden Rebellion base, Rebellion fighters scrambling to escape — Oh sorry — mixed the storyline up with the opening to The Empire Strikes Back.
The Reb — sorry Resistance — fleet is on the run with the Emp — First Order — ships in hot pursuit. One of the good guys devises a plan to infiltrate the lead ship, turn off the device the Em — sorry — First Order ships are using to keep our heroes on a leash and —
Okay: young Jedi wannabe seeks out the old master, finds him; leaves woefully unprepared on the naive belief that dark villain everyone is afraid of still has good in him and can maybe just maybe be turned.
Okay, okay, okay — say we’ve never seen a Star Wars movie before and we’re going into this cold (which I’m not but, hey, mental exercise right?). How does the movie hold up?
Too long (or has seriously slow patches); cuts between too many action sequences (a problem since the third movie).
Some of the characters use cowboy tactics, are slapped down or demoted for it; later turns out cowboy tactics save the day (or Resistance or whatever) — so what’s the official stance? Cowboy or no cowboy? Even “feeling undecided” would help clarify things.
Though when you think about it, why is General Carrie Fisher telling her subordinate to follow orders when, hey, this is Star Wars — a movie all about going cowboy and saving the day at the last minute. If we’re about following orders and using intelligent tactics and teamwork, why, this would be Star Trek.
The villain is a clueless unstable wimp — pretty much knew what was going on once I noticed Mark Hamill wasn’t leaving any footprints and Adam Driver’s character is too much into his “kill daddy” thing to notice (first Ford now Hamill — predictable much?).
And Benicio del Toro? Looks completely trustworthy. I’d give him my credit card number any time.
Best performances? Mark Hamill has a grandeur and dignity — if not sly wit — that recalls Alec Guinness. Laura Dern (Yay Diane!) looks by turns compassionate and iron-nails tough — you almost expect her to say “Fuck you Poe” a few times (which she manages to do, in so many words). She does get to fuse both looks in a poignant last expression before turning on the hyperdrive and seriously fucking over the bad guys.
Carrie Fisher has her moments of drily delivered humor but there’s something off — like she’s been digitized or anesthetized or something. Can’t quite put my finger on it. Sad, considering this is her last role.
Loved Adam Driver since Scorsese’s Silence, my respect for him taking a quantum leap after Logan Lucky (Deadpan comedy too?). He acquits himself well here; I mostly have a problem with his character as written,**** not his acting.
Rian Johnson stages effective fight sequences — thinking mostly of the melee in the red-lit throne room (long takes in medium shot, to better see the moves and stances) and on the salty sands of Crait; as I’ve noted writing about a previous work, he’s good at action, script not as. The special effects are first rate, the production design extravagant — you know how much I value that sort of thing, preferably in the hands of a visual artist with distinct ideas of what his world should look like (otherwise: not a lot). My vote for best special effect (in a movie crammed full of effects) goes to Frank Oz’s character which they finally stopped rendering as a bland full-figure digital animation figure and went back to Empire’s handheld muppet. There’s a warmth and substance to Oz’s performance vocally and physically that the rest of the movie, hell, the entire franchise is missing and sorely needs.
The final confrontation, with rank upon rank of Emp — sorry, First Order — walkers facing the lone figure on the ground? It’s been done, and done better, in Doctor Who: “Come on, look at me: no plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn. Oh, and something else I don’t have: Anything. To. Lose.” *****
There’s awesome and there’s awesome and then there’s awesome; Last Jedi doesn’t come anywhere near any of those categories. It’s a lot of expensively rendered sound and fury signifying “meh.”
* And let’s not call it A New Hope. First saw Star Wars on its first commercial run and keep thinking of it as Star Wars, the original director’s pronouncements and directives notwithstanding. Since when did I let some filmmaker tell me what to think or do?
** Has the Republic ever ruled successfully for any length of time? You start wondering if maybe the problem isn’t people like Palpatine or Snoke but the Republic.***
*** The Federation of Planets endured a few hundred years; Time Lords have been around since the beginning of time. Hell, even the US of A has lasted for over a century.
**** In Empire, Darth Vader, as carefully shot by Irvin Kershner’s cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, was a huge towering presence who could not be negotiated with, slowed down, or stopped. He cornered Luke, lopped off his hand, and, when the hero had nothing left but a righteous cause to fling in his nemesis’ face, Vader took that away too. Call the process “test to destruction (Keith Laumer anyone?),” it’s a darker more intense confrontation scene than anything in any other ’Wars movie. Driver’s character? Played from minute one.
MTRCB Rating: G